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The struggles of the AFC South and why they could be over

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The AFC South has been the consensus worst division in all of football in recent years, with all four of its teams having a bottom two record in the NFL at least once over the past five seasons. You have to go all the way back to 2010 to find the last time an AFC South team did not own one of the league's worst five records, and even then only one of its teams, the Colts, went above .500 in win percentage. 

The last five drafts have seen one of the Colts, Jaguars, Texans or Titans possess the number one or two picks (before trade activity) and the Jaguars have owned top five picks four years on the bounce. The Colts are the only team from the division to have gone past the divisional round of the playoffs since the Titans lost in the 2003 AFC Championship game to the Raiders, and since Indianapolis' last Super Bowl appearance in 2010, every other division in the league has sent at least one team to the season finale. 

The AFC South has been characterized by the instability of recent times and since 2011 it has yielded the worst combined record for a division in the NFL; its teams going 133-187 overall, a win percentage of just .415. If you compare the overall number of wins of the teams in the division per season against the other divisions in the NFL over the past five seasons, the AFC South has had the fewest wins three times and the other two seasons it had the second fewest wins.


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Over the same period, every other division holds over 145 wins and only two have combined win percentages of under .500, the NFC East and NFC South. The league's top division by wins since 2011 has been the dominant NFC West, with 178 wins, which has sent three teams to conference championship games and two to the Super Bowl. 

Even the dreadful NFC East teams combined for more wins last season as the Colts. Jaguars, Texans, and Titans compiled a lowly 25 victories between them. 

The instability of the division is largely down to a lack of continuity from the top down, starting with coaches and quarterbacks. It is extremely difficult to win games in the NFL without a franchise quarterback and good coaching to go with it, and the AFC South has experienced poor quarterback play as a whole along with frequent coaching changes. 

Over the same five-season period that has seen the teams in this division deliver disappointing results, there have been a total of 12 head coaches across the four teams.

Chuck Pagano of the Colts is the one man that has been able to keep his job for more than three seasons during this time and even he seemed to be on the chopping block at the end of last year. Only the AFC West has seen more coaches pass through its teams facilities in this period.

An even more startling number to consider is that there have been no fewer than 24 starting quarterbacks in the AFC South since the start of the 2011 season, the most of any division in the NFL. This goes to show that it is nigh on impossible to be successful in this league when you don't have consistency of play and personnel at the quarterback position.

The Houston Texans have had eight different starters at the position in this time, a number only bettered by the shambolic organization that is the Cleveland Browns who have had 10. 

The Colts are the only team who have had stability at quarterback since 2012 with Andrew Luck leading their offense and it is no coincidence that they have dominated the division until Luck got hurt last season. Three straight 11-5 seasons and an AFC Championship game appearance were largely down to the talent and leadership of Luck and it could be argued that without him, the Colts might have a worse roster than their three division rivals.

The Texans in particular have had a productive defense and talent at skill positions on offense but without a franchise quarterback, have been unable to achieve any success in the playoffs if they have even got to the postseason.

The Jaguars and Titans have both had young rosters but have had very poor quarterback play for the most part, although both seem to have their solutions in the past few drafts.

There is a real buzz around the future for this division and for good reason too. All four teams seem to have found viable franchise quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler, and the Titans and Jaguars in particular have made splashes in the offseason this year.

The Colts will have a healthy Andrew Luck back this year and with the extra protection they got him in the draft, the sky is the limit for them. Their achilles heal over their past few playoff pushes has been in the trenches on both sides of the ball and they have addressed their needs here.

They have had a hard time running the ball and defending the run as well as protecting the quarterback, but two solid draft classes and wise additions via free agency have solidified both lines and Chuck Pagano will certainly have a lot more to work with this year. A playoff run will be expected by the players and fans but they may not have it all their own way in the division any longer.

The Texans won the division last year, almost by default due to Luck's absence, but lost badly in the wild card round of the playoffs. Brian Hoyer was not good enough to take a talented roster to a Super Bowl but they have replaced him with Brock Osweiler whom they signed from the Broncos in free agency. 

Osweiler should be an upgrade on Hoyer judging on his early play last season when he came in for Peyton Manning, however, he did lose his spot once Manning returned and this could be a worrying sign. Having said that, Osweiler was impressive particularly in leading his team to victory over the Patriots and he might just be the answer the Texans are looking for at quarterback that will allow them to compete for a championship.

Osweiler will have pro bowl wideout Deandre Hopkins backed up a young group of receivers to throw to that includes rookies Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Jadeveon Clowney form one of the most fearsome pass rushing attacks in the league and they will be even more productive on a team that is able to lead games more often with better quarterback play. 

The Jaguars have their franchise signal caller in Blake Bortles, who had the second most passing touchdowns in 2015 and is armed with explosive receivers in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. The Jags also have tight end Julius Thomas and a pair of efficient backs in Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon.

Their offense is amongst the best in the league but it has been the defense that has let them down, ranking second worst overall last season. However, this offseason they have reloaded the defense in free agency and the draft, adding dynamic young talent in Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack, two of the highest rated players in the draft. 

They also signed Malik Jackson from the Broncos who is extremely disruptive on the inside of the defensive line and managed to add above average starters in the secondary in Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson. 

Jacksonville suddenly has a young team that can push for playoff contention and should only improve year upon year from now onwards. 

As for the Titans, they seem to have got their man at quarterback in Marcus Mariota and also added promising players both in free agency and the draft. Jack Conklin was drafted to protect Mariota at left tackle whilst the offense also gained two stellar backs in Demarco Murray and Heisman trophy winner Derrick Henry.

On the defensive side, they drafted DT Austin Johnson, DE Kevin Dodd and added some nice pieces in free agency including Rashad Johnson. These players should all help solidify a leaky defense and although they might still struggle this season, there is much to be optimistic about going forward especially with Mariota and an exciting group of receivers that includes Dorial Green-Beckham and pro bowl tight end Delanie Walker. 

All four AFC South teams should improve upon their record from last season and it would be a surprise not to see them as one of the better divisions in football in the years to come. A relatively easy strength of schedule lies ahead for each franchise this season with none of them ranking inside the top 18 toughest schedules and so there is a chance we will see multiple teams from this division in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. 

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Andrew Luck
Denver Broncos
Tennessee Titans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Houston Texans

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